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..There's a little Samuel Pepys in all of us..

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The news here has been somewhat subdued concerning the latest British military personnel killed by 'friendly fire'.. This latest incident happened in Afghanistan, and three Squaddies will be coming home in their coffins, because of misdirection of support fire by American planes.
Now, this is not to minimise the real support supplied by American pilots, who have more often than not cleared the way for our men caught in untenable positions..
But it does underline the need for an upgrade in our technology.
American forces are marked with a 'blue beacon'.. which identifies them as friendlies. British APC's, tanks, trucks, don't have that equipment, and it begs the question, why?
But the real story here, is the respectful lack of publicity. Now it could be the MoD is simply not willing to plaster it's losses all over the front page, or it could be that the average man on the street is, for the moment, less concerned with what's happening with out Armed Forces half a world away, than with the homegrown problems which have plagued this summer.
Either way, not quite the local newplay such an event would get in the States, should it have been British pilots bombing American positions..

Now, still with Afghanistan..
The Commons Defence Committee has released it's report on the progress of the conflict.. and while it's couched in political rhetoric.. it says basicallt this..
1. There are too few troops on the ground to win..
If the mission is to succeed, says the committee, it will require a commitment of size and strength greater than the international community is "willing to acknowledge, let alone to make."
2. If we are not exactly losing, we are not winning either..
The committee said: "Violence is increasing and spreading to the relatively peaceful Kabul and the northern provinces."
3. Too many Afghan civilians are being killed..
The committee said: "Civilian casualties undermine support for (the Nato force) Isaf and the Afghan government and fuel the insurgency, further endangering our troops."
4. There are still not enough British helicopters to do the job..
"UK helicopter operations in Afghanistan are not sustainable at the present intensity."..
5. Some of our Nato allies are leaving us in the lurch..
"The reluctance of some Nato countries to provide troops for the Isaf mission in Afghanistan is undermining Nato's credibility and also Isaf operations."
6. You can't fight the Taleban and opium at the same time..
The coalition's strategy lacks "clarity and coherence". "Uncertainty among Afghans about Isaf's role in poppy eradication puts UK forces at risk."
7. The Afghan security forces are a disappointment - some useless, some corrupt, some actually working against us..
"Police failure and corruption alienate support for the government of Afghanistan and add to grievances which fuel the insurgency." Even the Afghan army "are some way off operating independently".
8. So the exit strategy has problems, as in Iraq..
"We recommend that the government clarify its planning assumptions for the UK deployment to Afghanistan and state the likely length of the deployment beyond the summer of 2009."
9. The media war isn't going well, either...
"The Taleban is ahead in the information campaign. The government (must) more effectively the presentation of Isaf's objectives and the way in which developments in Afghanistan are reported."
Now combine that with the report delivered by American General Praetorius on the state of affairs in Iraq, and it would not be unreasonable to expect a re-thinking of the positions some governments have taken on both Afghanistan and Iraq..
For indeed, the last thing the EU or Russia wants to see, is a general, sustained withdrawal of British and American troops, either from Asia or the Middle East.
What with the volitility of relations between India and Pakistan.. within Bangladesh.. the looming economic crisis of China entering the world market in full production.. these wars, these distractions are a necessity while other Trade Agreements are hastily cobbled together..
The maintenance of the status quo in the Middle East, is an imperative for the economies of those with alternate supplies, and those willing to buy into them.
And that hasn't even touched upon the dependence the economies of Britain and the US
have developed on 'disposable commodeties'..

Interesting times we live in..
One has to wonder how long it will take, before a man's work is based on what he produces for public use..

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A number of interesting points..
It would appear the CIA is about to broaden it's influence over the internet beyond Wickipedia.. there's about to be a dedicated site for CIA operatives and analysts, to conduct discussions on their findings using a u-Tube, or Bebo format..
Yet something else to hack into..
It's been admitted by the CIA, that it has altered profiles on certain people in Wikipedia..
It would seem this internet might well be both more, and far less secure, than we who generally use it..
Take the edits by the Agency concerning a certain right-wing radio hosts, Ruch Limbaugh..
His profile includes indications that that a computer owned by the US Democratic Party was used to make changes to the site of poor old Rush..
The changes brand Mr Limbaugh as "idiotic," a "racist", and a "bigot". An entry about his audience now reads: "Most of them are legally retarded."
Ironically, that's the opinion of some of the folks who listened to him, but, they listened..
But more.. Last month Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg found his Wikipedia biography had been vandalised and contained a number of libellous statements, a story which was widely covered in the national press..
Then former MTV VJ and podcaster Adam Curry admitted to anonymously editing the podcasting entry to remove credit from other people and make his own role in the early days seem more significant..
And at the end of the month, US journalist John Siegenthaler wrote a scathing article in USA Today about the libellous material in his Wikipedia biography. The material was later revealed to have been a prank by someone who thought that the encyclopaedia was a joke site..
Following Mr Siegenthaler's article, the site team changed its policy to require creators of new content to register, although since there is no verification of identities this is hardly likely to make a big difference to anyone intent on vandalism or character assassination.
It was also confirmed that you cannot sue the Wikimedia Foundation for libel in the US because it is a hosting company and not a publisher, and US laws protect online publishers from legal action.
Of course, now that a printed version of the German edition is to be made available this may not keep them out of the courts, at least over in Europe.
One wonders how far a European Court would get, in filing a suit against the CIA..

Vlad leaves office this year.. his time too is up.. But it would appear that before he goes, he's bent on pushing his Russia back on the path of being a Major World Power again.
He's already shown a certain lack of remorse when it comes to business, with his gas price hikes to the former States of the USSR, and with the continuation of the construction of a pipeline across the Baltic, bypassing traditional landlines through the Baltic States and providing a direct link to the European market.
This provides for possible action in the future, towards drawing the old Soviet States into economic dependency, if not political solidarity.
He's restarted European bomber patrols, some of which were escorted by British fighters as they approached British airspace. The Russians pulled back, of course, well before Sovereignty bacame an issue.. but it's a warning to the EU that Russia is not a 'former power', but has the economic clout, and the military capability, to be taken seriously.
This all, naturally, a result of the American expansion of it's nuclear detection capabilities in Poland and the Czech Republic..
Had to be expected.. Russia will not allow itself to be relegated to a 'secondary power' on the world stage, and Vlad can posture with the best of them..

Now. The markets.
A few facts from the past week, and a few observations..
The various World Markets are afloat today, entirely due to the various National Treasuries tossed billions of dollars into the markets, to offset the losses in the credit market.. and while the end of this week saw a weak recovery, it's a certainty we can't return to the credit society we've been enjoying.
Now not entirely on the personal level. It's not all high-risk mortages falling through in the States, and the resulting fall in the housing market. High risk corporate takeover bids have proven to be less than profitable as well, and it is these investments, made by the banks and sold on to credit companies, which have caused the bulk of the damage.
The downstream effect has certainly reflected itself in reposession rates in the US, and has been predicted many times in this missive, the banks will soon be the largest holders of over-valued real estate in the country..
But, with the $US devaluating constantly, and the Fed showing a willingness to drop rates to prop up a collapse, it may well be that the effects will be felt, eventually, much harder in Europe..
One may laugh.. but what are the chances of yet another bout of Supply-Side Economics in the States..?
And what will happen, when the inevidable correction comes into effect, and the value of the Euro plunges?
Even though the price of gold is increasing, and gas at the pumps in the US and Canada may be falling.. One would think a cache of bullion and oil futures would be as safe as one could get..

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Has to be the quote of the day..
"You're looking at the foundation of a marketplace that has imploded somewhat," from Steve Goldman, an analyst at Weeden & Co.
The European Central Bank.. the ECB.. has pumped some 95 billion Euros into the Eurozone, to put some fears to rest.. stop a run on the banks, so to speak..
The US Federal Reserve has repotedly done something along the same lines in the States.. putting something close to $24 billion American into the system..
And, taking this credit crunch to it's logical conclusion, it could mean we're heading into a recession..
A tad more than a 'market correction'..
The declines in the US markets came despite attempts by George to calm market fears.
Speaking after a meeting with his top economic advisers, he acknowledged there had been "disquiet" on Wall Street over the housing slump.
Perhaps he's learning the art of understatement through his increasing relationship with this country's leaders..
But, says George, he believed the markets were set for a "soft landing". that he expected the markets to focus increasingly on the underlying health of the global economy and robust US prospects..
Just what those prostects are, was not elaborated upon..
"The underpinnings of our economy are strong," he said, adding that second-quarter growth had been strong, while both inflation and unemployment remained low.
Low, but higher unemployment figures..
Strong, but less than predicted growth levels..
This credit economy, from personal mortgages to corporate merger financing, is beginning to teeter..
An interesting story, buried in one of the English papers this morning..
'The Guardian' made reference to a public surveilance system, which could be linked to computers, which in turn could predict the mood, or perhaps intent, of any particular individual by their body language.. their heart rate.. their eye movements..
It's called 'Project Intent'.. and while they say the technology is still 'under refinement', it's expected that such monitors will be in place in some airports and rail stations by 2012..
If one goes back two years to a BBC story, it was camera software, dubbed 'Chromatica'.. which would alert Central Security of unusual crowd movements, or abberant behavior by an individual..
'Project Intent', according to The New Scientist magazine, say the plans describe how systems based on video cameras, laserlight, infra-red, audio recordings and eye tracking technology are expected to scour crowds looking for unusual behaviour, with the aim of identifying people who should be approached and quizzed by security staff.
The project hopes to advance a security system already employed by the US transportation security administration that monitors people for 'unintentional facial twitches, called "micro-expressions"', that can suggest someone is lying or trying to conceal information.
Peter McOwan, a computer scientist who is developing sensors to detect people's moods at Queen Mary, University of London, said: "It's just like something from Minority Report. They have been watching too many Tom Cruise movies"..
Yet, according to the two year old BBC report, "Transport systems across Europe have expressed interest in the advance warning software and Cromatica has already been tested at London's Liverpool Street station."
Deniability. Have to love it..
It's said, with some authority, that if you walk eight blocks around London, you will be photographed over nine hundred times..
It seems we've walked willingly, in the firm faith that it is for our own protection and with the unshakeable attitude that 'if you're doing nothing wrong, you needn't worry..' into what amounts to abrogation of personal privacy. We have been convinced that whatever rights we're giving up, aren't really that important anyway, especially when it come to the 'greater good'..
That by allowing the government to make us less less 'individual', we are in fact, allowing ourselves the fearless freedom to 'be' individual..
We, while being a people with a proud and ancient heritage, are very easily led, especially in times of crisis. This time, the problem we've had manufactured for us, is the current economic situation.. the cost of housing.. the cost of borrowing.. the stress of having to maintain a two-income household merely to maintain what used to be possible on one.
Now normally, one would insist the blame lies with each and every one of us, for allowing this to happen.. by electing governments which have bungled our economy into the sad state it's in today..
But in this case, the finger has to be pointed in two directions.
One, at the banks, for offering a credit lifestyle which, to most, is irresistable. Those with incomes which used to go into savings accounts, now cannot resist a fifty-inch plasma television, have one delivered to one's door the next day, with no payment really.. it's on plastic..
Two, at the government's policies towards profligate spending on that which, quite frankly, can't be afforded. We're enjoying the highest economic growth in Europe, yet we spend almost half again as much on a grocery shopping than they do in France or Germany, and half again for a litre of petrol.
Ten years ago, we elected Tony on a promise of 'no tax increases'.. and quietly watched as out tax bill increased 13 times..
Now while it may seem we have strayed from our initial point, that being increased surveilance.. more advanced surveilance..
Take it as a sign of what we're willing to take, right across the board.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A number of issues have popped up since last there has been time to update this missive.. much to discuss..
Let's begin with the massive 'correcttion' in world markets.. It was an obvious development and a direct effect of the 'free credit' attitude of lending institutions, for eventually, even they will run short and demand that either interest rates oon their loans increase, or that the funds be replaced. This bagan, as was noted here some moths ago, with the increasing number of forclosures on the individual level. Where families, enouraged to buy on the 'no money down never-never' and given floating rates, found themselves on the street. This allowed the lenders to acquire temporary equity of their own, but even that wasn't nearly enough to cover their outlays to big business for the endless chain of takeovers which had been financed..
This fall in the American markets triggered a chain-reation worldwide, as indeed it would, and has sparked talk of the housing boom here in the UK, quickly reaching it's ceiling. While we've seen no action towards evictions here yet, but realistically, it's only a matter of time.
This is not the time for first-time buyers to enter the market... Perhaps in eight or nine months, but not now..
Now this issue is clouded by another, which we will get to in a moment. That being the numbers of immigrants who are coming into the UK from the EU, especially from Poland, who are filling skilled jobs and making decent wages.
However, we'll come to that..
To finish eith matters economic for the moment, it must be noted that the UK economy grew at an annual rate of 3% in the first quarter of the year, higher than most other major economies.
Gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 0.7% during the period from the previous quarter, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Although this figure was unchanged from previous estimates, revisions to earlier data pushed the annual growth rate higher to 3% from 2.9%.
It would seem we're doing well..

Now, there's Darfur. It was suggested quite a while ago that the UN should employ a PeaceKeeping force for the distribution of goods sent to assuage the plight of the refugees, and with this system now in place, and an infrastructure developing, it would seem the various rebel factions have decided the political route might well be the way to go now.
Dozens of leaders from Darfur's fractured rebel movement have begun talks in Tanzania...These talks, mediated by the UN and African Union, are aimed at finding common ground between the groups, if at all possible..
The UN envoy to Sudan, Jan Eliasson, said he was hopeful the talks would lead to peace negotiations with the Khartoum government in several weeks.
But, and there's always a 'but'.. an influential rebel leader has boycotted the talks, signalling the divisions within the movement.
Abdul Wahid Mohammad Ahmed al-Nur, of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), said he had no intention of going to Arusha.. that he wanted the killing in Darfur to stop before he would participate in negotiations.
Another Northern Ireland situation here, and one with an equally good chance of finding a solution..
But again, it must be kept in mind, that an agreement may well be reached.. 'Hail fellows, well met' exchanged.. But in that country the situation could change instantly.. at the drop of a grenade..
This certainly won't be the last of these Conferences.. Again, it's a process that will take time.. decades at least.
However, there's a lot of oil money to be developed from the deposits in the Sudan, and that in itself may prove to be an incentive for at least, a temporary agreement which will halt the destruction of the oilfields, and pipelines.
One can only hope that Nigeria will see what exchanging 'force' for a better standard of living, has on the Sudanese man on the street..

Now. Immigrants.
Two and a half million foreigners have moved to the UK to work since 2002, National Insurance figures suggest.
The numbers, which include those who may only have been in the UK for a short time, have been getting larger each year, reaching 713,000 last year. The Home Office stressed these were people coming to the UK to work, and said it now monitored social impact.
But Damian Green, for the Tories, said the "huge" and "accelerating" figures were "extraordinary" and should be cut.
His reasoning is, that we will find the societal differences being introduced by these immigrants, being used by political fringe groups the likes of the BNP, to attract even more adherents, and raise racial tensions. That these immigrants are not coming here to be 'British'.. but to remain Polish, or Bulgarian, or Armenian, or whatever, and would simply be using this country to earn a wage impossible for them in their homelands.
One sincerely hopes that Damian's sentiments are not shared by the majority of 'native Brits'.. That we, on the whole, have more common sense.

And finally, back to George meeting Gordon, for the first time in his position of Prime Minister..
One must say, Gordon did exceedingly well. He worked from notes, taken no doubt during the talks he and George had before their Media appearance. Gordon gave the impression of being far more articulate, and willing to lay out exactly what were the most important issues, as far as Britain was concerned.
While George resorted to his usual flamboyant rhetoric when speaking about the threat of terrorism and the war in Iraq.. he was forced to agree with Gordon's statement that the ara for which Britain is responsible, Basra and four provinces, in three of those provinces the British Forces have made enough progress to hand control of those areas back to Iraqi officials, and Police Forces..
Of the other issues Gordon brought up.. the likes of global economy, global emissions, global cooperation.. George appeared to be somewhat at a loss for words..
He described Gordon as 'a man of principle'.. a pause as though searching for another phrase, then 'a man who likes to get things done..', all in a rush.
A body language expert would have pointed out the 'baby pout' George made during that extended pause.. a sign that he was making a statement which was somehow 'distasteful'..
Gordon made it clear, that while Britain and the US are still 'primary allies', the two countries are no longer attached at the hip. That British soldiers will remain on the ground, until their mission is completed, but after that.. well.. we'll see.
Britain's committed to Afghanistan as wwell..
All of these issues will develop quickly over the next few weeks, and we'll be keeping an eye out..

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